CHARLES CITY — Faced with dark and muddy conditions, firefighters used a long ladder to rescue three railroad workers from a train derailment caused by a washed-out rail line near Charles City early Tuesday. No one was injured.

Tuesday night, Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, confirmed that the partially submerged 80-car train was leaking ethanol and diesel fuel into the Little Cedar River.

He said the diesel fuel from one of the engines was being contained. However, ethanol does not float and mixes immediately with water, making recovery impossible, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Greenberg said the company’s environmental crews were continuing testing and had found no adverse impacts to the river such as reduced oxygen levels or dead or distressed fish.

Firefighters used the ladder to reach the top of the train, according to Mitch Nordmeyer, interim emergency management director for Floyd County.

Firefighters then extended the ladder from one car to the next to crawl across the void between the cars to reach the three railroad employees who were on top of one of the derailed locomotives, he said.

The derailment was reported at 11:30 p.m. Monday. Nordmeyer said it took until 1:30 or 1:45 a.m. Tuesday to get the railroad employees to safety.

Besides the firefighters, numerous other emergency personnel assisted at the scene.

“Everyone worked well together and did an amazing job,” Nordmeyer said.

The eastbound 80-car train was carrying ethanol.

“Five cars derailed,” said Greenberg said. “Four had ethanol.”

As the water started receding Tuesday, Greenberg said, crews determined one car was leaking ethanol from a puncture and a derailed engine was leaking diesel fuel.

He said crews are preparing to move the car carrying the ethanol over the next 24 to 48 hours and that water samples will continue to be taken by Canadian Pacific environmental officials in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Each car holds 25,000 gallons of ethanol.

He also said containment booms and absorbent pads have been set up around the locomotive as crews prepare to remove it from the site, which the DNR says will occur Wednesday morning. Greenberg said diesel fuel was being contained beside the locomotive.

The accident took place near the intersection of Windfall Avenue and 190th Street, according to a report by the Charles City Fire Department.

Upon arriving at the scene, Charles City firefighters reported no smoke or fire from the train or its cars, with the main portion of the derailment located at least a half-mile from any roadway.

Access to the location of the derailment was difficult at best, firefighters said, as the locomotives were surrounded by rising floodwaters of the Little Cedar River.

Railroad supervisors on scene had radio communications with the workers for a time.

The Canadian Pacific reported there were no safety issues from the accident.

Greenberg said the railroad was “most appreciative” of the help given by the responders who rescued the rail employees.

The Charles City Fire Department was assisted by Floyd County Emergency Management, Chickasaw County Emergency Management, AMR Ambulance, Floyd County Search and Rescue, Chickasaw County Rescue, Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Department, Iowa State Patrol, Mercy Air Med, Colwell Fire Department, Alta Visa Fire Department, Ionia Fire Department, Canadian Pacific Railroad, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Mason City Regional HazMat Team.

Globe Gazette reporter Mary Pieper contributed to this report.

(3) comments


...“Safety is a priority.”...Yep driving a train into flood waters pretty much shows that fact. Well that and in 100 million miles railroads manage to kill 90 people to normal drivers 1.1.

Matt Sauer

Don't get me wrong this is a bad thing, but take note what the DNR's main concern is the diesel fuel from the locomotive not ethonal. What does that tell you about ethonal?


The diesel does not mix with the water - meaning you can set up booms and skimmers and separate it from the water. Diesel is able to be separated once it's mixed. Ethanol, on the other hand, mixes with water and does not collect on the top - so if DNR can't separate it, they really can't do anything about it leaking. I didn't see any place in the article where the DNR said they weren't 'concerned' about the ethanol - only that they couldn't 'do' anything about it.

Ethanol is still junk fuel.

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